Dakota Rural Action Statement of Covid-19

Introduction:

As the world deals with the Covid-19 crisis, Dakota Rural Action (DRA) believes the first step for all of us is to secure the well being of our family, friends, and community. 

The crisis illuminates weaknesses in the community structures we depend upon from the health care  to the food and agricultural systems. Because these systems are not currently oriented toward well-being, health, or justice but instead toward profit, Covid-19 is descending upon an already deeply  inequitable landscape. Due to systemic inequities, poor and working-class people, communities of color, uninsured or underinsured people, and homeless people are among those who will continue to struggle the most during this crisis. The immediate and longer-term impacts of this crisis will hit these groups particularly hard. Along with fighting off Covid-19 in our communities, we must also fight for changes to these systems to center the basic value of caring for each other. 

We also know agricultural producers dependent upon markets ranging from farmers markets to the livestock pits at the Chicago Board of Trade are facing a difficult and uncertain future. Farmers Markets may not start on time and local food producers who depend upon them will have to find an alternative way to market. For cattle producers who have to sell calves this spring the impact is even more immediate. The cattle market has dropped significantly since the Covid-19 crisis has hit the mainstream. While cattle producers and all commodity producers have experienced low for the past several years, this recent significant drop has impacted producers who have to sell now.

We also know there are companies like TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) pushing forward with non-essential projects endangering our communities, and their workers. Work on these projects, especially the Keystone XL pipeline, needs to stop immediately and the workers need to be sent home to their families instead of living in cramped rural housing in communities underserved by health care in good times.

What we’re going to do and what you can do:

DRA is not going to risk our members, allies or friends and have postponed or canceled all face to face gatherings for March and April. At the same time DRA staff, leaders, and members are still working and will respond to questions and try to help.

  • We encourage communities to have conversations about the needs and resources they have available to help each other to deal with this crisis, with particular attention to those most vulnerable among us. The Dakota Rural Action Homegrown Sioux Empire Chapter has started these conversations. Some of their early ideas for local food producers and resilience can be found on the Facebook page: Homegrown Resiliency. In the Black Hills a Mutual Aid Facebook page has also been established. Use both pages if you’re looking for help or have help to offer.
  • In addition please support local food producers who are continuing to deliver the best locally produced food and fiber.
  • We call upon the Federal Government to focus relief efforts towards people and to include small and mid sized family farmers in this relief.
    • Ensure all farmers are included in any broader stimulus or farm relief package – Many small and mid-sized farms, limited resource farms, and farms operated by farmers of color are not well served by existing crop insurance or revenue programs designed for commodity growers and were left out of past Market Facilitation Program payments. It is vital that any legislation considered to address the farm and food sector include specific provisions to assist these producers. 
    • Sustain demand for farm products and ensure equitable food access and distribution through direct purchase mechanisms and expanded food aid – Small and mid-sized farmers often rely on direct sales to the public and institutions, both markets that have been severely disrupted. To ensure the long term sustainability of family farms, federal response should prioritize the purchase of fresh and minimally processed foods from local markets, food hubs, and institutions for emergency feeding operations and acknowledge these enterprises as essential services. 
    • Direct lenders to grant emergency extensions of loan repayment deadlines and provide essential emergency operating funds.
    • Provide direct financial assistance to producers affected by the loss of domestic markets through USDA’s disaster, indemnity, and other program authorities – Market disruptions coinciding with spring plantings will restrict access to credit for farmers, especially small farmers, under-resourced farmers, farmers of color, and beginning farmers. Federal response should ensure equitable access to credit and permit the modification of existing loans, provide emergency write-downs, develop novel loan-grant programs, and consider alternative financing structures for small and mid-sized farmers and operators. 
  • And finally we call upon TC Energy, state, local, and national decision makers to take all steps necessary to stop the pre-construction work on the Keystone XL pipeline. If you would like to sign an online petition calling for this action, check out Bold Nebraska’s petition at: Cancel Keystone XL

Dakota Rural Action also wants to share and highlight the good thinking being done by other organizations proposing short and long-term policy solutions as well as general information about the virus. These groups include:

We also commit to doing our best to stay up-to-date on the needs of our members, producers and communities, the opportunities and resources offered by others and the resources that will be made available in the future.